Bringing Order to the Chaos

In the year since I last updated my blog, I've often thought that I should write about Law & Order. Not only did the flagship series of this great franchise go dark in May after a stunning twenty seasons, but I've spent much of my summer greedily hoarding and poring over old reruns on DVR. I've loved Law & Order almost as long as I've loved television, and something about its ending made me frantic to more fully immerse myself in the experience of it. And within this immersive retrospective, it became increasingly evident that this series was so much more than a mere procedural, its brilliance goes beyond its tightly wrought mysteries and innovative format. In re-watching much (though not nearly all) of the series' 456 episodes, one finds two decades of nuanced cultural dialog. With their myriad cases, some "ripped from the headlines", most purely theoretical, we observe the inner-workings of our justice system as applied to a sort of elaborate, hypothetical testing ground. The abstruse black and white of our society's laws are given shape and color, with voices speaking for all points of view, and we the viewing public sit in judgement, to sort out for our selves what meaning we can find.

Not long ago, having dinner with friends who share a similar admiration for Dick Wolf's master work (Olli Haaskivi and Chris Swan, to name names), I admitted a difficult thing: Law & Order is one of the only forces in the known universe that has ever caused me to reconsider my position on political or social matters; which is not to say that it's changed my mind, but by fleshing out the intangible principles by which our justice system operates, I've been made to see the other side of several controversial issues in a way that I've never been moved to by any op-ed article or political speech. This show is unique in its facilitation of dialog because it advocates for no one position. Characters of equal intelligence and esteem regularly disagree on the concerns of the day, sometimes calmly, sometimes with great fervor, but in the end they all work together, and respect each other, and despite their differing philosophies and styles, all have an equal stake in the fight for justice.

Perhaps the most compelling example of this is the show's ongoing debate on the use of the death penalty. Growing up the way that I did, I never questioned my inherent opposition to capital punishment, believing that support of it came primarily from what I considered a barbaric desire for vengeance. I still oppose it, that much hasn't changed, but hearing Jack McCoy argue in its favor certainly opened my mind to the reasons people have for supporting it, which thereby expanded not only my understanding of the issue, but also the of people with whom I disagree. We live in a world where far too often sound-bites and headlines stand in for true examination of the issues. But by applying the laws of our country to these imagined situations, Law and Order engages us in a much fuller debate, exploring all angles of every story.

Which brings me to the episode I watched today. "Aftershock" the sixth season finale, is as close as Law & Order ever gets to a "very special episode". Abandoning the usual formula of investigation followed by prosecution, this episode begins with a man strapped to a gurney, as another man prepares to administer a lethal injection, and a curtain is drawn back, revealing all the series regulars (except Lt. Van Buren, who explains later that she opted not to attend because of her uneasiness about the proceedings). They've come to watch New York City's first execution since the ban was lifted, and we see their varied reactions as the heart monitor eventually registers the man's death. For the next 55 minutes there's no case, no real plot, just each character coping with the event in his or her own way.

Briscoe and Curtis, who apprehended the man put to death, now find that they have conflicted feelings about their much celebrated success. Curtis wanders the city alone until he happens upon a female grad student (played by Jennifer Garner, who has never looked more beautiful), with whom he spends a frivolous day, talking about music, never admitting to being a cop. His escapism leads him to a one night stand, the eventual admission of which results in the break-up of his marriage the following season. Briscoe, on the other hand, has a awkward lunch with his daughter, from whom he has been partially estranged for some time. She pushes him to talk about his drinking, wanting to know when and why he stopped, and when he's unable to answer to her satisfaction, she tells him she preferred him as a drunk, and walks away. He wanders the city, burdened by her words, until that evening when he meets up with Jack in a bar, and decides to join him in drinking away their feelings about the day's events.

Jack's journey to the bar began earlier that afternoon, after his ride to the office with Claire became so tense that he left her car to find a taxi. Theirs was a beautifully rendered, complex relationship. During their time together in the D. A.'s office, it was made clear, although mostly sub-textually, that there was romance between them when they were off duty, but on screen they were all work and no play, except for the occasional lingering glance or off-hand remark. Until this episode, the debate over the issue of capital punishment had been primarily between these two, and this was reflected in their tension, both at the execution and in the car.

Upon his arrival at this blue-collar dive bar, Jack strikes up a friendship with one of the regulars over a game of darts, and spends the day talking with this near-stranger about their fathers, sharing many rounds of drinks in the process. He begins with happy childhood memories, calling his father a super-man, telling of how hard he'd worked to please him, but by night fall he'd moved on to darker memories of his father beating his mother, and of watching him die of lung cancer. We learn a lot about Jack in these scenes, the sort of things that he admits to his impromptu confessor he never talks about. Among them, that he'd hoped to be a cop like his dad, to fight for justice, but his father had wanted more for him and pushed him toward the legal profession. We learn as well that his father taught him, whether in sport or on the job, for McCoys "losing was not an option". It's in these revelations that we see beyond his academic, if impassioned, arguements about the need for the death penalty; no matter his reasoning or justifications, Jack is still fighting to make his father proud by punishing the bad guys, and winning at any cost.

Claire uses her day-off to visit her step-father in his classroom, where he's lecturing on the principles of law to the next generation of attorneys. She confides in him about her guilt and anger over playing an instrumental role in something she didn't believe in. She expects him to be sympathetic, understanding, and when he isn't, her world is thrown further out of balance. She expresses to him that she keeps working to find the middle ground between, "pragmatism, idealism and cynicism", which I believe is the the central conceit of the entire Law & Order franchise. But sadly, Claire is never able to achieve that golden mean. After a cathartic conversation with Lt. Van Buren, and several calls from Jack, she goes to meet him at the bar, only to find that he's left, believing she wasn't coming. Having missed him, she approaches Briscoe, who is now thoroughly drunk after spending much of the evening with Jack, and offers to drive him home. In the midst of an affectionate conversation between the two of them (Lenny tells her he wishes she'd been his daughter, because she doesn't hate him) their car is struck by a drunk driver, and Claire is killed.

This final scene is voiced over by Van Buren, reading a letter she's writing to her mother, expressing for the first time her feelings about the execution. She tells of the man's terrible crimes, the beautiful young girl he raped and murdered, and her belief that such a man deserved what ever happened to him, but ends by saying "today the state of New York got its revenge. And it's not enough. And it's too much", and then, as Lenny looks at Claire's bloodied face, the screen fades to black.

This is a classic example (the unusual format not withstanding) of what Law and Order does best. In an early scene, D.A. Adam Schiff expresses that it's their duty to "bring order to the chaos", and that's what this show does so beautifully. The system is as imperfect as the people it represents, there isn't always justice, there isn't always meaning, but what these characters do, for their world and for ours, is maintain the structure through which a world in an ongoing state of violent disarray can be sorted out.

So thanks, Dick Wolf, for twenty years if judicious discourse. My life, modern television, and dare I say, society as a whole, are in your debt. Here's hoping Law and Order Los Angeles lives up to its pedigree!

City on fire (rats in the streets!)

It has been shamefully long since I've updated. Rest assured, things have happened. My bed exploded, I fashioned a new one, I went to the beach a lot, the world lost two Kennedys, I joined a church choir (yep), a woman from home, whom I loved and admired, lost her fight with cancer, and my county has suffered the largest fire in its history. I've had a lot thoughts, but not the energy to order them into pleasant paragraphs. But, in the great tradition of our era, I went to the movies yesterday, to escape the heat, the smoke, and my own spirals of stress and anxiety. That mission was thoroughly accomplished, along with the side effect of giving me something to write about that is unrelated to the sturm und drang of the moment.

I initially went to see District 9. Sci-fi dork that I am, I had every intention of having an ass-kicking good time. However, it was apparent from early on that while District 9 might well be a good movie, it was too dark, the violence too "human", and the allegory too brutal for it to be fun. Perhaps it becomes more hopeful as the story continues, but I'll have to wait to find out until it's released on video. Weak stomached baby that I am, the jerky-wandering movements of the hand held camera made me so nauseous that 40 minutes in, sitting there with my eyes closed trying not to puke, I decided this wasn't the flick for me. I mustered my courage to go out to guest services and ask to exchange my ticket for another movie (I considered just sneaking in, but was immediately overwhelmed with fantasies of uniformed theatre employees entering with giant flashlights, finding me, and banning me from ever returning to the Grove again... a fate worse than death!), and although I lost all my nerd-cred with the obvious Scinephile behind the counter, it was worth is because I successfully finagled a free ticket to see the Time Traveler's Wife.

Despite its obvious girliness, I've known since I first saw the Time Traveler's Wife trailer that it was designed to make me weep (no, I haven't read the book, although having seen the film, it is now definitely on my list). I like Rachel McAdams, I like sentimental stories about true love, and I LOVE time travel . Also, this slate article that I tweeted a couple of weeks ago ( about how the Time Traveler's Wife fits with various theories of time travel whetted my appetite for some relatively plausible space/time goodness. I was not disappointed. Although there is a scientific component to the protagonist's travels, and an inherent relationship between those travels and the laws of the universe, the film wisely aligns itself more with the structure of magical realism than that of science fiction, (along the same lines as Eternal Sunshine...) explaining the concept simply and completely early on, so that thence forth these trips through time are the catalyst for the narrative, rather than its subject. This frees the story to focus on the emotional rather than the technical, and eliminates the liability of creating lofty, convoluted exposition which runs the risk of either confusing the audience, or bastardising the underlying science.

The emotional journey of the central characters, so in tune and yet so out of sync, is the heart of the film. Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana as Claire and Henry are both so lovely and sincere that the few problems I had with the film as a whole (the inconsistent perspective being foremost, I found it odd that we followed neither Henry nor Claire's timeline, but a seemingly random mishmash of the two) were far out weighed by how caught up I was in their love story. I also must give major credit to all four child actors, each of whom played their parts with understated emotional honesty. Mad props to director Robert Schwentke (who also got a solid performance out of the little girl in Flight Plan, his totally awesome Jo-Fo thriller from 2005) for using the children so simply and beautifully, something you rarely see, especially when the little ones make up the supporting cast.

Many reviewers complain about the lack of practical development in the plot (there are no real attempts to stop or control the time travel, he can't change anything, he doesn't learn anything useful) but I think they miss the point. This is not an adventure story about a daring explorer making his way through time. This is a story about destiny, about the beauty and agony of a life in which it is a given that you have no free will. Henry states within the first few minutes of the film that as he grew up he tried to control his travel, tried to change the past, but he learned through trial and error (and advice from his older self) that such attempts were futile. Like legions of fictional Greeks before him, he had come to accept that his story had already been written. This isn't a film about struggling to overcome life's challenges, it's about living with the knowledge that you can't. This theme may be unengaging to some, and bitterly unsatisfying to others, but that doesn't make it any less valid.

Henry's acceptance of his fate allows him to live completely within the moments he's given, whether past, present, or future, without any agenda other than simply being. The best example of this, for me, was his travel back to the time of his early childhood, when he, as a grown man, encounters his mother on a train. He doesn't warn her about the future, attempt to explain who he is, or worry about the odd impression he'll make, he merely tells her that she's wonderful, and that he's sure her son loves her very much. So, while the physical (and metaphysical) journeys belong to Henry, the emotional arc is Claire's. Although she's had a general understanding of her husband's condition since he first visited her in her early childhood, the reality, the inevitability of it doesn't register for her until the end of the story. She's sad or angry when he goes, she believes he could find a way to stop, she fixates on how to undo the future. But, ultimately, she is as helpless against the cruelty of time as he is, as we all are, and she learns to make the most of what she has. I suspect there are many of us for whom this is an important lesson.

And so, I recommend the Time Traveler's Wife with the caveat that it is a film requiring an odd combination of predispositions from its audience. It is a love story, clearly, but one that doesn't conform to the questing, optimistic irrationality of the romance genre. It is resigned, without being cynical, (perhaps betraying Schwentke's German-ness), and faithful to the generally accepted principals of physics, without ever mentioning them. But as an un-"romantic" story about the significance of true love, and its powerlessness against the certainty of time (theoretical or practical), the Time Traveler's wife is deeply moving, and beautifully, purposefully unsatisfying.

ps- Yes, as far as I know, I did coin the term "scinephile", right here, right now, and yes, Jo-Fo is what I call Jodie Foster.

Great Green Globs

If you know me, you know I'm a juice drinker. I'm genuinely shocked when anyone tells me they don't drink a lot of juice, so highly do I regard its taste and nutritive value. Like any committed juice drinker, I love to treat myself to a smoothie from time to time (by which I mean several times a week, if possible), and I'm too busy/lazy to make them myself. So, in the world of commercially available smoothies, there are three ways you can go:
  1. Juice Bars and Smoothie places are the best (Jamba Juice, Robex, lots of independent places, Whole foods in SRQ has a pretty nice juice bar...) they take fresh ingredients, add healthy "boosts" to your specifications (protein powder, multi vitamin, etc) and blend it for you with ice and milk or whatever. Totally yummy, and lots of healthy stuff (probably a lot of sugar and calories too, but it feels healthy, and that's what matters to me), however at $4-6 per smoothie, this is not economically sound as a daily drink.
  2. Non-juice bar blended smoothies are pretty much a scam. You can get these at fast-food places and school cafeterias. Basically they take sweetened fruit concentrate syrup and mix it up with crushed ice, resulting in a sort of fruit slurpee. These are refreshing in a pinch, but too sweet to really feel at all healthy or natural. And I'm sure the sugar content is through the roof.
  3. Bottled juice smoothies are actually better than one might think (not quite as fancy as fresh-blended juice bar smoothies, but much nicer than the fast-food variety) and are widely available. Grocery stores, 7-11s, gas stations, pretty much any place that sells individually bottles drinks sells bottled smoothies. The three brands that dominate the market are Odwalla, Naked Juice, and Bolthouse Farms.
My mission today is to examine the third option. Each brand has its strengths and weaknesses (Bolthouse Farms coffeemocha protein shake, while not really a smoothie, is the tastiest protein beverage around) but I thought I'd pick one type of smoothie and compare across all three labels. I've chosen the green smoothie because I love it, it's the health-food-iest of the bunch, and because I think often people are needlessly frightened by the color. I will award up to 10 points for taste, 5 points for nutritious content, and 5 points for package design.

  1. Odwalla "Original Superfood" - Despite the dark green color, probably from the 2000 mg of spirulina, this has a very traditional smoothie taste, with a little bit of a bite. With the primary ingredients being apple, peach, mango, strawberry and banana you're sort of overwhelmed by the fruity-ness of it, while the green stuff, wheat and barley grass, sprouts and jerusalem artichoke, not to mention the spirulina, tries to slip by undetected. The resulting flavor is complex, perhaps too complex. The fruits and the greens feel like separate elements that never quite come together to form one flavor pallette. It's not like it tastes bad, but it's not my favorite. And while those green ingredients sound pretty impressive, when you check the nutrition info, it doesn't add up to as much as you might think (20% of your recommended daily intake of Vitamin C, 20% Iodine, 8% Iron, 2% Calcium). I'm hesitant to harsh on the packaging because the Odwalla look is such a big part of the bottled juice industry, but while I like the bright colors and swirly cartoon graphics, I wonder if people who come to this drink as adults might think it looks to juvenile, and that's already kind of a problem for juice... Points awarded: Taste- 7, Health- 2, Design- 3; Total 12/20
  2. Bolthouse Farms "Green Goodness"- Definitely has a very earthy taste. Boasting 1500mg of spirulina, as well as chlorella, green tea, broccoli, spinach, barley and wheat grass, bluegreen algae, echinacea, garlic, and a bunch of other healthy stuff, Bolthouse Farms does not hide its greens under a bushel. The apple, banana, kiwi and pineapple work with, rather than against their darker counter parts, but do nothing to shield the drinker from what's going on; this is good for you, and you know it. The taste is still better than a non-green juice drinker might expect, but only by a little. The vitamin content is fantastic (over %100 daily value for Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Zinc and Magnese) and you feel good after drinking it. The packaging is age neutral, equally appealing to organic-happy moms, and old ladies in farm houses, but the over-all appearance is very subdued and doesn't call attention to itself. I also find it difficult to imagine a man buying or drinking from this container. Points awarded: Taste- 4, Health- 5, Design- 2; Total 11/20
  3. Naked Juice "Green Machine" - I love this drink. In the interest of full disclosure you should know that when I'm not doing taste tests for my blog, "Green Machine" is the only green smoothie I buy. The taste is so satisfying, you feel like kiwi and bluegreen algae were made for each other. The fruits and the greens come together to form one yummy, healthy whole, with no pond-like after taste. The ingredients stack up pretty much like the other two (but with slightly less Spirulina, no jerusalem artichoke, and added ginger and parsley), and the vitamin/mineral content pretty much splits the difference between odwalla and bolthouse. Appearance-wise, it's hard to look past a word like "naked" when you see it on a juice bottle, and if you pick it up and take a closer look you'll find an easy to read list of the fruits and "boosts" in the mix, as well as a cute little dialogue about how weird it looks as compared to how good it tastes. And even though young-ish ladies probably make up most of the smoothie buying market, nothing about this bottle is particularly feminine or childlike. Points Awarded: Taste-10, Health- 3, Design- 5; Total 18/20!!!
I hope everyone found this informative, because I am now so sloshy with green juice that I'm likely to sprout leaves any second. If anybody questions my methodology based on the fact that this was a one person study, and only confirmed that my favorite was the best... well, you can get your own blog and do your own juice tasting. Or just send me some feedback, and let me know your green smoothie thoughts; I love a good beverage debate!

Happy juicing!

My bagpipe, my hookah

I have a number of things to discuss. I started a twitter, mostly so that I could do mini updates to this blog via text message (note the twitter widget on the side bar), and also partly because I wanted to know what all the fuss was about. I'm now following a bunch of tweeters (Twitteratti, as Adelaide likes to say) ranging from President Obama to Shaq. So far Rainn Wilson has been the most entertaining. Anyway, if you're a tweeter too, you can follow me there, but if not you needn't make a special trip, as everything posted there will also show up here (although I do heart my background image)

Also, I believe I promised a weekly digest of "My Step Son, My Lover" submissions, and FictionAlice's word is her bond:

My Laundrette, My Long Johns -Molloy
My Sweet Land of Liberty, My Lando Calrissian - Molloy
My Cage Fighter, My Spy - Jacqueline Hargis
My Princess, My Wide Receiver - Oddly, dialogue from a Hello Kitty cartoon

Please, keep them coming! This game amuses me endlessly.

In other news, it's Olli's birthday. He is now 23, which I find totally unacceptable. How dare he be so old?

And now to return, as I promised I would, to the subject of TV shows on probation. I had a dream last night that the season premiers were starting, and I was so excited! I couldn't believe how quickly the summer had flown by. Clearly my subconscious has a lot going on. So, I thought I might do a series of posts about the shows that have fallen from grace, in my opinion. And so I'll begin with the greatest offender, Grey's Anatomy (there will be spoilers).

In thinking about the state of the show as it is, I went back and watched some episodes from early season two, when Grey's was first coming into it's own as a mega-hit. Some of the things that bother me now have always been a part of the show, like the fact that practically every surgery is exceptional, or at least unusual, and the absurd over-use of monologues. But back then, it worked; I knew it was manipulative, and I didn't really respect it intellectually, but I was engaged, and having a good time. A lot has changed since then, making it difficult to track where things began going down-hill, but I think I've got some good ideas.

The departure of Dr. Burke hit the show really hard. I get that Isiah Washington was a jerk and a homophobe, and I understand why they let him go, but it damaged the social dynamic of Seattle Grace irreparably. Burke was the eternal straight man, rising regally above the silliness of his co-workers. There were moments when his gravitas was a joke in itself, but he was never in on it. He was a perfect match for equally driven, but much less dignified Dr Yang, and he and Dr Shepherd made adorably butch frenemies. Perhaps most importantly, his high handed sobriety was a grounding influence on the show's fluffier elements. All attempts to replace him have gone poorly, from grouchy Dr Hahn (who never seemed good enough for Callie) to maudlin Dr Hunt (I'm all for exploring the topic of post-traumatic stress in the military, but Grey's is not an appropriate place for it, in my opinion) and let's not forget that Ausberger's lady. The delicate balance of the show tipped when Burke left Kristina at the alter, and it's been wobbling ever since.

Also, what the hell happened with George? Rumor has it that the producers have been displeased with TR Knight or whatever, but it's super un-classy to let that effect his plotlines to the extent that it has. He's quite possibly the most talented actor on the show, and as the hard-working but unheralded good-guy who never gets the girl (or gets her, but can't keep her), George was one of the show's more relatable characters. He's not a rock star, or a McHottie, but a good doctor and a great friend, with fabulous comic timing. It appears that George will be dead in the fall (they tried to make it all suspenseful, but they crushed his whole face in the finale, how could an actor do anything with that? not to mention that the traumatic accident/facial reconstruction thing has already been done on Grey's), so I guess that's just another loss the show is going to endure, but a terrible decision, in my opinion. And I think it's very telling that upon the revalation that Geroge was flatlining, I was more offended than saddened.

And on the subject of the finale, OMG Izzy, WTF? I get that we all loved Denny, and when we got to see him again when Meredeth was in that coma, I was thrilled. But having him around all season long as a ghostly hallucination foreshadowing Izzy's fatal illness was just totally crazy-pants. I'd say in previous years this show was like 1 part silly dialogue and catch phrases, 1 part sexcapades, 1 part weird medicine, and 1 part sappy melodrama. Altogether, these combined elements made for a delightful viewing experience. But this year the melodrama took up like, 3 out of 4 parts (I think it squeezed out catch phrases entirely, when was the last time you heard anything McQuotable?), and Izzy's illness was the worst offender. If she survives in the fall, she'd better bake us all some cupcakes to make up for what she's put us through.

The last problem I have with the show is sadly the most realistic. The characters we were so into have all drifted apart. They're no longer untried interns, hungry for experience and cleaving to one another in the face of ever mounting challenges. They're grown-ups now, with their own interns to teach, and mostly find their stability in romantic rather than platonic relationships. This may be the way these things go, but it has hurt the fun-factor of the show in a major way. And in the fantasy world in which these characters exist, I don't think it's too much of a stretch for the original five to remain BFF.

So, when I tune in again in the fall, because we all know I will, there are a few things I would like. First, don't kill Izzy, the show can't take the loss of two central characters at once, and George's death seems to be a foregone conclusion. Second, please don't go back on your promise to let Meredith and Derek be happy, because they deserve it, and so do we. Third, don't put any more characters in mortal danger, it's been over done and I'm tired of being jerked around. Forth, more humorous character interaction is desperately needed. And finally, NO MORE GHOSTS. Seriously.

Life moves by pretty fast...

I'm not going to eulogize John Hughes. Lots of people have already done that very well, and I have nothing to add. I feel like over-arching analisys of his career are better left to people with a greater stake in it: gen x-ers, middle americans, people who really went to high school, etc. Since I am none of those things, I always viewed his tales of Shermer at a remove. As a child, I imagined that when I grew up high school would be like that, and then, it wasn't (and not just because I only went for a year).

Teens are still angsty and misunderstood, of course, but the phenomenon of high school as the students' entire social world had withered by the time millenials like my self were in the desks. Notorious for our extra-curricular-heavy schedules and cyber-socializing, high school was but one among many realms in which we forged our young identities. After-school jobs, volunteer organizations, non-school related sports teams, church youth groups, study in the arts, and connecting through internet communities took up nearly as much time as high school itself, and had the advantage of putting kids in groups where there was a shared interest. While many films still follow the Hughes model of the high school experience, television was quicker to acknowledge this shift. If you look at Buffy or Dawson's Creek high school was just a place they had to go each day, occasionally learning a lesson or two, but the real business of living took place after hours, and had little to do with how they felt they were perceived by the student body, or their place within that manufactured hierarchy. Even in a show like Gossip Girl, which puts the high school in the foreground, features several teen characters who aren't even in school, and the primary tool of student interaction is a blog that chronicles the scandalous behaviour of young people, apparently city wide.

If this seems like too hard a sell, maybe I'm just overly invested in this argument because it relieves me of the feeling that I missed out on an important cultural experience by being home schooled (which, for the record, I wouldn't change for anything). At any rate, to me Hughes' work in the high school milieu represents the teen experience as it was when I was a baby, simultaneously compelling and totally alien. However, there is one film from his Shermer period that I do relate to, and I thought that for my own mini memorial, I might philosophise about it for a bit.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off is a joyful and cunning film. Written and directed by Hughes, it delves into his pet theme of generational alienation (a subject which fell quickly out if vogue, or at least changed perspective, during the next few years when the boomer writers began having children of their own), but manages to keep the tone light by shifting the conflict to unlikely places. As Ferris glides through his life and this day untroubled by conflict (either within himself, or with others), his best friend struggles to over come the physically debilitating sense of worthlessness caused by the emotional distance of his parents. But the eye is misdirected from this weighty material by the giddy fabulousness of Ferris's antics. The action is guided by Ferris, the narrative shaped by him in his asides to the camera, but (as he explicitly states 3/4 through the film) this adventure is for and about Cameron, who needs to see something good, and learn to enjoy his life before he and Ferris are separated by graduation and college, and he'll have to drag himself out of bed without his best friend's help. When Cameron finally explodes during the scene in the garage the audience feels his anxiety, pain, frustration, and ultimately relief, but just as it begins to sink in that this was really his story all along, we're off again on a final mad dash with Ferris, exhilarated by his unbridled infallibility, and distracted from the gravity of what has just transpired.

What distinguishes this film from it's brethren is that it's more a coming of age story than a high school story. As stated gloriously by Grace the school secretary, Ferris's popularity is not limited to the jocks, the dweebies, or the motor heads; everyone thinks he's a righteous dude. Similarly, Cameron, Sloan, and Jeanie are not boxed into discrete categories of high school life (though, if I had to guess, they'd all wind up in different boxes) but they're together in this film because they're the people in Ferris's life, and whatever social disconnect there might be is never addressed. The school, as embodied by Principal Rooney, is not Ferris's world but rather his foil, and is comically out-matched at every turn. Ferris sees high school for what it is, a phase that's quickly passing and that needn't dictate the terms of his life.

Now, unlike most young girls who grew up on the Hughes movies, I didn't identify with Molly Ringwald, or even Ally Sheedy. I wasn't a princess, or a loner, or the sort of person who's ever gone unnoticed. But I could see a bit of myself in Ferris; I am preternaturally likable, whimsical, and good at getting away with silly behaviour. I often think of myself more as a character creating an exciting story than a person who needs to live by the rules of the real world (but, while for Ferris that quality is mere meta-cinema, in me it may suggest mild mental illness ;-), and while I lack his talent for confabulation, I have every confidence that I could hijack a parade if the opportunity presented itself. It also helps that he never sets foot inside a classroom.

On a personal note, I should mention that the day before my 20th birthday I e-mailed all my professors and told them that, since it was my last day as a teenager, I would be skipping classes to stay home and watch Ferris Bueller's Day Off. They were all surprisingly supportive. So I thank you, Mr. Hughes, for making a film that was not about the drama of outcasts, nor rebels, nor queen bees and wannabes, but the joy of an irrepressibly rakish spirit who's only quest was to have fun and help others do the same. This magic day that Ferris gives to Cameron was your most delightful gift to your audience, and we are all so thankful.

Java Jive

I just drank a cherry flavored latte. I'm aware that the very thought of this will turn most of your stomachs (the reality of it didn't do mine any favors), but if I take you through my journey, perhaps you'll understand...

Let us turn our minds back to the middle years of this nameless decade, when I was still a Sarasota girl, traipsing fancily across five points park on my daily journey from Starbucks to the Golden Apple, 5 shot raspberry iced white mocha latte in hand. Each pinkish sip was a transcendent pleasure, the tartness of the raspberry meeting the rich darkness of the espresso, sweetened by the white chocolate syrup, and tempered by the milk... the satisfaction was indescribable. But tragically, nothing that perfect is meant to last, and in early 2007 Starbucks changed their formula for raspberry syrup, renaming it "juicy raspberry" and making it redder, sweeter, and thicker. I tried to go on as if nothing had changed, sipping away, attempting to overcome the sugary taste of the syrup by adding a 6th shot of espresso... but the gooey clumps of juicy raspberry would stick in my throat, chocking me with their perversion of all that I had once adored. The baristas offered their condolences, but there was nothing they could do. The Starbucks over lords had made their choice, and we all had to live with it. I began ordering an unadorned white mocha, and tried to move on with my life.

Much has changed since those days. I finished college and left home, trading in my ritual daily jaunt through five points for a tense commute through the obstacle course of Los Angeles traffic, and these days when I order my iced white mocha, my longing for the raspberry of yore is but a distant memory. Or it was until my dear friend Adelaide casually mentioned on the phone last night that she'd tasted something that reminded her of "that pink coffee" I used to drink. Suddenly my long-buried desire came flooding back, and I was once again reeling, desperate to recreate the satisfaction of the latte-that-was.

I was struck by an idea: The Coffee Bean! For those of you outside of LA "The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf" is a local chain that's ubiquitous as Starbucks in these parts (and apparently now has locations in other areas as well). I have some issues with their white mocha lattes in general, because they're flavored with a powder rather than a syrup. In theory this isn't a bad idea, as it prevents that cloying sweetness that comes when a barista gets overly enthusiastic with the flavor pump, but it tragically leaves you vulnerable to the even less appealing problem of un-mixed lumps of powder. I'm also pretty sure that their large is smaller than a venti, but I don't have data to back me up.

Anyway, it occurred to me that since I don't normally drink there I'm not super familiar with their flavors and extras, and I indulged myself in the fantasy that maybe they had a raspberry syrup of their own. But my hopes were dashed when I went after work, and discovered upon a thorough examination of their menu that they don't even come close to starbucks in terms of customizable options (chocolate, vanilla and caramel were pretty much the only a la carte accoutrements). But there I was, determined to have a taste adventure. I told the barista that I wanted something new and different to add to my white mocha latte, and that I had no qualms about oddness. Some of her co-workers got in on the action, and together we decided to add a generous splash of the juice from a jar of cherries into their usual white chocolate concoction.

I can't claim to have enjoyed the resulting beverage, exactly. It was overwhelmingly sweet, and not the most natural of flavor combinations, but the look of the rosy brown liquid swirling around the ice in my plastic cup did give me a nostalgic twinge of pleasure. If there is a lesson to all of this, I suppose it's that you can't recreate the past. I'm in a very different place now than I was three years ago, both practically and emotionally, and no amount of artificial flavoring can make things as they were. But now that this flurry of caffeinated reminiscence has past, I can return to the business of embracing my life as it is, in a city that's infinitely more complicated, with a latte that's decidedly simpler.

C'mon, Get Happy!

So, after many hours of deliberation, we have a new format! I have to say, I was kind of stymied by all the options. There are so many beautiful green, flowery nature themes out there, and I was obviously drawn to them, but I felt they demanded a more sincere tone than I'm apt to provide. I think my snarky observations about teen dramas would look especially petty juxtaposed against the majesty of nature :-) So, I was totally excited to find this cute/funky partridge family-esque template. It has a sort of tree-hugging sensibility that I require, without setting up false expectations of profundity. Although I do sort of feel lke my blog is sponsored by Target...

Anyway, I thought I'd take this moment, when I don't have anything pressing to say, to introduce a little game I like to play. The game is called "My Step Son, My Lover", and is inspired by the Lifetime Original Movie of the same name. The goal is to construct similar titles, with increasingly absurd combinations. Examples:

My Warden, My Stylist
My Window Washer, My Private Dancer
My Barista, My Running Mate
My Organ Donor, My Organ Grinder
My Broker, My Night Stalker
My Koi Pond, My Grave

You get the idea. Game play is primarily conducted via text message (major players include Olli "My Mannequin, My Confidante" Haaskivi and Adelaide"My Half-Brother, My Haberdasher" Lee), but I thought we could all benefit from giving this activity a higher profile. So please join in! Comment, e-mail, text or facebook message me your titles, and I'll try to do a weekly round-up of submissions. Good times/noodle salad.

In moderately related news, Adelaide has started a blog (I'm such a trend setter!). Because she's classier than I am, her's has a theme. And it's got a great header graphic. Check it out:

That's all I've got to say about that. But I have the day off, and apparently all the DMVs are closed, so I may post more later :-)

Fictional Ice

So, a while back Olli noticed that my facebook url "fictionalice" (also my url here) which is meant to be a portmanteau of Fictional and Alice, could also be read as Fictional Ice. He joked that it sounded like the title of a cable drama. I immediately posted on his wall a description of what that show would be, along with a cast breakdown. That wall post became a popular little item, and I have been asked t share it here:

fictional ICE

Writers working as slaves for a giant entertainment conglomerate, imprisoned in a defunct research station in Antarctica, churning out stories under penalty of death by freezing... Who were they before they went subzero? Why did they come to this place? And who among them has the talent to write their way to freedom? Find out Sunday nights at 9 on TNT.

THE AUTHOR (Paul Sorvino) the shadowy wizard of this wintry Oz

FRANCESCA (Jill Hennessey), a tough as nails crime writer, who with her quick mind and knowledge of the under world is considered the highest risk for escape.

CALEB (Noah Whylie) belying his wholesome good looks and seemingly mild manner, is the ruthless overseer of FI. He is coldly efficient in the execution of his duties, but the fiery Francesca heats him up, and makes him question his loyalties.

LAUREL (Michelle Williams) writes coming-of-age stories for young girls. She has an optimistic, romantic nature, but is unable, or unwilling to face their situation as an adult should.

SKY (Nicholas Brendan) is a young sci fi writer who's never been much good at looking after himself, much less anybody else, but being around Laurel stirs in him a longing to emulate the dashing heroes he writes.

So, I thought a fun little game might be to post synopses of FI episodes from time to time, because what's more satisfying than writing fiction in teeny-tiny increments? I also invite you, the public, to join me! If you ever feel like summarising an episode of a tv show that doesn't exist, just post it in a comment here (I fixed it so you don't have to log in to comment, btw) or e-mail it to me and I'll post it.

Other things: (because clearly, you care)

1) I watched the first two episodes of the new near-future space drama "Defying Gravity" on hulu. I liked it. I think I could grow to love it. I'm auditioning shows to fill the void that LOST will leave when it goes, and I think this one has potential. I would like other people to watch it and discuss it with me. I think it's on sundays at 10 on ABC. (and if you do watch it, know this: the g-force simulator that makes that chick puke -- I rode that at space camp, and didn't even get woozy. Were is not for my terrible vision, I would have made a brilliant astronaut)

2) New project! I have decided to make a giant bean-bag chair/sleeper thing. I am very excited about it. My only problem is finding filler. There's a styrofoam factory in chino that may sell polystyrene beads for cheap, but I can't find out until morning. Does anyone know where I can get tons of styrofoam filler (recycled, of course), or have other suggestions for fillers (I read that sawdust works well -- and smells so good! -- but I don't know where I'd get 25 cubic feet of sawdust).

I need feedback!

I forgot my mantra

So, I woke up this morning thinking about 500 Days of Summer, which I saw almost 2 weeks ago, and which has since been on my mind a lot. I have this compulsion that, when I like something while still recognizing its obvious flaws, I have to either justify them or put them into a context that makes them more acceptable. Many of you have been down this road with me, Titanic, the Star Wars prequels, the Matrix sequels, Twilight... when I like something I can't fully approve of, it creates a crisis.

Which brings us back to the film in question. 500 Days is a quirky romantic comedy, funny, relatable, and genuinely moving, featuring excellent performances from its very engaging lead actors. It is also very obviously the director's first film, stylistically disjointed, and not as original as it wants you to think it is.

The aroma of the neophyte hangs heavily around 500 Days. Director Marc Webb has a few music videos to his name, but this is his first venture into feature film territory. It was also the first major project for screen writing team Scott Neustadter and Michael Webber (who, incidentally, teamed up again on the Pink Panther 2 script). Together this group had a lot of interesting ideas, and as first timers often do, decided to use all of them. There is an omniscient narrator, the non-linear timeline is made (overly) clear by a flip book displaying the numbers of the days, there is a dance number with a cartoon bird, mid-film the characters do b&w talking head interviews about the nature of love, there is an entire scene done in spilt screen, one half representing what the character hoped would happen, the other half showing what did happen, and a handful of other "non-traditional" devices used to underscore the odd romance of these quirky characters. Several of these ideas were good, both in theory and in action, but the combination was over kill, especially for a viewer who recognizes that they've seen them before.

Because sadly, if understandably, 500 Days is a 21st century, Woody Allen-less mirror of Annie Hall. From the beginning when the narrator tells us that the characters are not destined to be together, through the back and forth of the good times and the bad, to the end when they see each other again, and come to realize that despite the failure of their relationship, they've helped each other grow into the people they needed to become, it's hard to escape the fact that you've seen this story before. Beyond the general scope and structure of the films, there are details in which the latter more specifically mimics the former: the fact that he decides to go for it when he sees her singing in a bar, or the use of the split screen technique to comment on the state of the relationship, scenes where the man tries to get over the break-up by going on awful dates with other women, even showing the emotional gulf between the two characters by demonstrating their varying experiences when attending a film together (although, I must admit, I loved the way 500 Days used the Graduate here).

Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, I think it's clear that these guys are big Woody fans. And who can blame them? I wish I had made Annie Hall too, but (if you'll forgive my saying so) even Woody can't match the magic of that these days. And there are few endeavours as guaranteed to fall flat as the attempt to recreate someone else's originality.

All that said, you may wonder why I stand by 500 Days as a fun summer romance. The most important factor is the performances. Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon Levitt are young and beautiful, and they play their Ikea courtship scene with such enthusiasm that it's almost as charming as the lobster scene it wants to be. I have high hopes that they'll both go on to greatness. The director and writers also show promise, and I think it likely that now that they've purged themselves of all the self-conscious uniqueness of 500 Days of Summer, they might find in subsequent projects that they actually do have something to say that's genuinely new and different. And at the end of the day, there are so many cookie cutter love-stories out there, I do give this film credit for breaking the current mold, even if it got there by adopting an older one.

Let there be thoughts

Welcome to my blog! Olli has been championing this project for a while, and I finally decided to appease him. I don't have any particular theme in mind, although it seems likely that film and television will feature heavily :-)

On that note, I thought I might jump in with a topic that always occupies me in the summer: things I'm looking forward to in the upcomming tv season! And since everything is nicer in list format...

(no worries, I've kept it mostly spoiler-free)

10 Desperate Housewives - This show just barely makes the cut, because I spent the first half of the season stewing over what I thought was a shark-jumping decision to project the characters five years into the future. However, Creepy Dave drew me in, and kept me interested enough that I didn't tune out, and by season's end I was glad to have been along for the ride. But I warn you, ABC, if Mike and Susan aren't back together in the fall, you may lose me forever.

9 Southland - I made no secret of the fact that the passing of ER was very hard for me. Many a tear was shed as County took it's last bow. So, it was with a heavy heart that I first watched Southland, from some of the same production team, and in that hallowed must-see 10pm thursday slot. What a great relief this show has turned out to be! In the few episodes they've had, they have created a world with the potential to be as complex and diverse as it's predecessor. I don't want to get ahead of myself, but I think this show could be for cop-drama what ER was for medical drama, a freshly nuanced take on a tired formula. And I love all that great LA location shooting!

8 Gossip Girl - We all know that this show suffered from kind of a rough 2nd season. I remember when GG first came on the air how surprised and excited I was by this frothy little high school dramedy that was as clever as it was trashy. But like a souffle collapsing from it's own loftiness (is that what souffles do?) the second season suffered from the wacky plotlines and high expectations created by the first. However, aside from Lilly turning into a monster, and the teaser for the spinoff they forced upon us in the prom episode, the season finished well. I was very pleased with the return of Georgina Sparks, and foresee lots of interesting possibilities in their mass matriculation.

7 The Simpsons - To know me is to know that I value this show above everything else on the air. And it may not have fancy cliff hangers, or sexy new plotlines to entice viewers come fall, but the beauty is that it doesn't need those things. It is practically perfect in every way, and I look forward immensely to the return of my guaranteed weekly half hour of pure joy!

6 30 Rock - Like the Simpsons, 30 Rock is not a show I watch because I care what happens next, but rather because it's delightful no matter what's happening. Although, I do want to see how long they can hold on to Alan Alda.

5 The Office - A show that's a classic in it's own time, the Office finished their season in typically classy fashion. And while I look forward to seeing Jim and Pam's big surprise play out next year, I'm honestly more excited about the continuing evolution of Michael Scott. He's a character for whom I feel a lot of empathy, and it's sometimes very difficult to watch him struggle through the series of minor tragedies that make up his life. But his monologue about Holly in the finale is probably the most mature, considered thing his character has ever said, and it gave me hope for the future, both of their relationship, and his life in general.

4 Dollhouse - Like a lot of Whedon fans out there, I did not fall immediately in love with this show. I think there was some struggle in the beginning to find the right balance of concept, humor, heroism, and ass-kicking. And, let's be honest, it took some adjusting to deal with such familiar Whedon-verse faces in these strange new circumstances. But about a third of the way in they found their sound, as it were, and ended the season on high note. Mad props to Alan Tudyk for being jaw-droppingly cool, and bringing it all home. I really look forward to watching this series get better and better.

3 Chuck - I have to say, I really admire a season finale that fundamentally alters the protagonist's world. Not a hook-up, or a break-up, or a complication likely to be resolved in the first few episodes of the next season's premier, but a full-on game-changer. That was a solid finale, my friends. Chevy Chase, Scott Bacula, Jeffster! And I don't think I've been as pleased by a closing line of finale dialogue since Ross said Rachel's name when he was marrying Emily. I can't wait to see how this new situation plays out, both in terms of crime fighting, and the Chuck/Sarah relationship.

2 House - The important thing to note here is that House has never been a high priority show for me. I've watched and enjoyed it for ages, but it's never been a huge deal if I miss an episode, and it was never a show I thought about when I wasn't watching it. Until the season ender that changed everything! Those last few episodes, and perhaps most importantly the last few minutes of the finale have been on my mind constantly since May. I have rarely felt so manipulated, cheated, and yet riveted at the same time. And have you seen the teaser for season 6? Holy cow, you guys, we are in for a wild ride.

1 LOST - It seems cruel that the show for which I am most excited is the one for which I have to wait the longest. It is almost inconceivable to me that it will be 2010 before I know what happened to the island (almost as inconceivable as the fact that in a few months it'll be 2010). Specifics which cause me particular concern include: Locke. The apparent reappearance of Charlie. Richard Alpert's extreme handsomeness. Sun and Jin. The whole of the space/time continuum and the Losties' place in it. This final season had better be everything I've ever dreamed of and more.

Shows that are on probation, for various reasons, include: Grey's Anatomy, Bones, Brothers & Sisters, and Castle. Maybe my next post will tell you why...